Detection and Characterization of Special Nuclear Material

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) is seeking information on research efforts in the area of detection of special nuclear material (SNM). This request for information (RFI) is issued solely for information gathering and planning purposes; this RFI does not constitute a formal solicitation for proposals. The following sections of this announcement contain details of the scope of technical efforts of interest, along with instructions for the submission of responses.

Background & Scope

Radiation emission serves as a signature for the possible presence of SNM. At present, land-based detection of SNM, and other radioactive sources in commerce, is primarily performed by radiation portal monitors (RPMs). These RPMs are positioned at chokepoints such as border crossings, entrances to facilities, or other areas of interest. For roadside applications, RPMs are generally positioned close to traffic lanes so that individual vehicles can be measured while moving at slow speeds in order to maximize detection sensitivity. In some circumstances, there is the need to perform radiation measurements of vehicles along open roadways without impeding the flow of traffic. In these cases, it is necessary to position detectors farther from traffic lanes and to have sufficient sensitivity to measure vehicles moving at highway speeds.

IARPA is interested in novel, innovative, state-of-the-art (SOTA) capabilities in compact, highly sensitive detectors of SNM for a range of applications. Responses to this RFI can describe both existing detectors and concepts for future detectors. Existing applications or areas of interest to IARPA include, but are not limited to:

  • Radiation detection along open roads with vehicles moving at highway speeds
  • Cargo inspection at ports of entry
  • Detection of SNM radiation sources in urban environments

This RFI seeks approaches to the detection and characterization/identification of SNM that are:

  • Highly sensitive (able of detecting at a minimum, Significant Quantities of SNM)
  • Highly compact
  • Inherently ruggedizable (robust against vibration, temperature variations, shock, etc.)
  • Low power

Responses to this RFI should quantitatively address any or all of the following:

Detection Principles
    1. What is the scientific principle that enables your detector?
    2. What are the assumptions that go in to your detector design?
    3. What are the current and theoretical sensitivity limits of your detector?
    4. Does the scientific principle underlying your detector inherently provide directional information? If not, how is directionality estimated and how does directionality affect the sensitivity limits described in question 3? In your answer, please discuss individual sources of error and propagation of uncertainty.
    5. If applicable, what is the imaging resolution associated with your technique? If the resolution is variable, how is detector sensitivity related to resolution?
    6. How does your detector enable the discrimination among sources of radiation, especially SNM sources?
    7. Can you quantify your detector's probability of detection versus distance? Provide the methodology used to render this estimate.
    8. Discuss the effects of shielding of the SNM on your detector. What are your assumptions as to what shielding is of interest?
    9. In your responses, please also include impacts of the external environment on your sensor’s performance (e.g., earth’s background radiation, ubiquitous noise sources, etc.).
Physical Properties
    1. Minimizing size and weight are key considerations. What are the current and lower theoretical limits on the size/weight of your detector? (Please include active detection volume and all supporting hardware in your estimates)
    2. Describe any consumables required by your detector and the rate of consumption of each.
    3. What are the present power requirements for your detector? What are the lower theoretical limit on that power requirement?
    4. Describe your detector’s power management capabilities, to include quiescent and active current measurements, and identify any known transient current draws.
    5. Is your detector technology inherently rugged and man-portable? Does your detector meet any existing Military Specifications (e.g., MIL-STD-810-F)? If so, please identify the standard and any testing methods used. If your technology is not inherently rugged, please describe approaches to ruggedizing it for uses outside the laboratory.
    6. Describe your detector’s operating condition limits with respect to external temperature and pressure or other applicable limiting environmental parameters.
    7. Describe the internal operating conditions of your detector. For example, list the operating temperature and pressure, the internal voltage and current, and other relevant parameters.
    8. Does your sensor design lend itself to array configurations? If so, what are the maximum spacing requirements between detectors so that individual element measurements are optimized?
Data management
  1. What data standard does your system use (e.g., ANSI/IEEE N42.42)?
  2. What are the data processing and storage requirements for your detector? What type of data processing is required for on-board analysis of the collected data?
  3. Discuss the system’s computational and communication architecture (describe data rates). If cloud resources are needed, please explain.
  4. Do you anticipate using proprietary algorithms and/or software? Please explain.

Preparation Instructions to Respondents

IARPA requests that respondents submit ideas related to this topic for use by the Government in formulating a potential program. IARPA requests that submittals briefly and clearly describe the potential approach or concept, outline critical technical issues/obstacles, describe how the approach may address those issues/obstacles and comment on the expected performance and robustness of the proposed approach. If appropriate, respondents may also choose to provide a non-proprietary rough order of magnitude (ROM) estimate regarding what such approaches might require in terms of funding and other resources for one or more years. This announcement contains all of the information required to submit a response. No additional forms, kits, or other materials are needed.

IARPA appreciates responses from all capable and qualified sources from within and outside of the US. Because IARPA is interested in an integrated approach, responses from teams with complementary areas of expertise are encouraged.

Responses have the following formatting requirements:

      1. A one-page cover sheet that identifies the title, organization(s), respondent's technical and administrative points of contact - including names, addresses, phone and fax numbers, and email addresses of all co-authors, and clearly indicating its association with RFI-18-01;
      2. A substantive, focused, one-half page executive summary;
      3. A description (limited to 5 pages in minimum 12 point Times New Roman font, appropriate for single-sided, single-spaced 8.5 by 11-inch paper, with 1-inch margins) of the technical challenges and suggested approach(es);
      4. A list of citations (any significant claims or reports of success must be accompanied by citations);
      5. Optionally, a single overview briefing chart graphically depicting the key ideas.

Submission Instructions to Respondents

Responses to this RFI are due no later than 5 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, on 18 December 2017. All submissions must be electronically submitted to as a PDF document. Inquiries to this RFI must be submitted to Do not send questions with proprietary content. No telephone inquiries will be accepted.

Disclaimers and Important Notes

This is an RFI issued solely for information and planning purposes and does not constitute a solicitation. Respondents are advised that IARPA is under no obligation to acknowledge receipt of the information received, or provide feedback to respondents with respect to any information submitted under this RFI.

Responses to this notice are not offers and cannot be accepted by the Government to form a binding contract. Respondents are solely responsible for all expenses associated with responding to this RFI. IARPA will not provide reimbursement for costs incurred in responding to this RFI. It is the respondent's responsibility to ensure that the submitted material has been approved for public release by the information owner.

The Government does not intend to award a contract on the basis of this RFI or to otherwise pay for the information solicited, nor is the Government obligated to issue a solicitation based on responses received. Neither proprietary nor classified concepts or information should be included in the submittal. Input on technical aspects of the responses may be solicited by IARPA from non-Government consultants/experts who are bound by appropriate non-disclosure requirements.

Contracting Office Address:

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity
Washington, District of Columbia 20511
United States

Primary Point of Contact:

Dr. Merrick DeWitt
Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity


Posted Date: November 20, 2017
Responses Due: December 18, 2017